by John Holler
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
Four months ago, four new members of the Wright County Board of Commissioners were sworn into the new jobs. Four months later, they’re getting their feet under them as they continue to transition into their new roles.
All four commissioners —-— Mike Potter, Charlie Borrell, Christine Husom and Mark Daleiden — had a steep learning curve to get up to speed at the numerous committee assignments and volumes of information they would need to tackle the numerous ongoing issues that face the county. Four months later, it’s getting easier, but the learning curve hasn’t flattened out just yet.
“We’re still learning something new every day,” Potter said. “It’s still a deep in many ways. I think we’re still just scratching the surface. For the old county board, a lot of what we’re doing was old hat. We’re still doing a lot of things for the first time.”
The new commissioners came from different backgrounds, but all of them shared one simple philosophy — wanting to make Wright County government more accessible to the public and open the lines of communications not only with cities and townships, but with county employees as well. To that end, they have earned high marks.
“We’re trying to make things more open and transparent,” Potter said. “One of the things we learned coming in was that employees seemed a little sheepish about speaking up about their concerns. When you have a group of commissioners together for as long as the former board was, they had their own way of doing business. They were very conservative. We’re looking to change that and get more people involved in the process.”
Each of the commissioners came in with certain issues that were of importance to them. Potter wants to make sure transportation issues are updated and focused on. Borrell wants to see reforms of issues dealing with government imposing its will on citizens. But, he understands that change doesn’t come quickly and it isn’t as easy as simply changing how things have been done in the past.
“I have things that I want to accomplish that we haven’t been able to do yet, but that’s not a bad thing,” Borrell said. “If you come in saying that you’re going to change ‘X’, it could change ‘Y’ without you realizing it at first. Sometimes it’s harder to implement ideas because there are factors you might not have initially considered.”
Borrell said he has joked when friends that he should have run for king instead of county commissioner because, regardless of how strongly he feels on an issue, he is merely one-fifth of the county board voting block. It is that checks and balances approach that Borrell believes makes government successful and what helps build a consensus on an issue — whether the majority of the board agrees with his ideas or not.
“It’s not a one-person idea type of position,” Borrell said. “You need to get the other four — or at least two — commissioners to come along. It can be frustrating at times, because, if, in your opinion, something is a good idea, you want to see that change come as soon as possible. But, it’s a very deliberate process and things don’t change overnight. You get small changes that aren’t significant on their own, but they can add up to create change.”
It is the coexisting and working together that will define how the new commissioners work together. For Husom, her job as county commissioner is her first elected office and she’s finding her footing alongside fellow commissioners who have worked in the group dynamic of a governmental board. She’s found that finding a middle ground everyone can agree on is vital to making change happen.
“I’m continuing to learn new things every day,” Husom said. “Because of all the committees I serve on, I’m getting up to speed on a lot of different issues. At the same time, we’re learning about each other as commissioners and how everyone else works. There is consensus building that takes place. We all represent our districts, but we also represent everyone in Wright County, so it’s important that we do what we believe is in the best interests of everyone in the county. That takes some time.”
She agrees that altering county policy doesn’t come quickly or easily. She had hoped to see things the new commissioners feel strongly about being enacted sooner, but has come to see that nothing happens immediately when it involves governmental decisions.
“The wheel of a big ship turns very slowly,” Husom said. “Change doesn’t come immediately, and we’re working on the things that are important to us. One of make goals is to make county government more efficient and make the most of our tax dollars. We’re finding ways to make those changes, but none of them come immediately.”
In an effort to create change, Daleiden and Husom sponsored a contest to get employees to share their ideas to make the county government more efficient — whether a county-wide initiative or an in-department program of specific interest to a smaller segment of county employees. It was a grass roots effort that hadn’t been attempted before, but one the Daleiden embraced. He came to the county board with no agenda, other than trying to find ways to make the county run like a business…a successful business.
“I never went in with any expectations,” Daleiden said. “It’s all new to me and it has been a lot of fun. My grandmother told me that when you cease to learn, you cease to exist. She lived to be 93. I’ve tried to live by that same standard.”
While each of the commissioners has a vision of how the county will tackle the issues it will face in the coming years — both big issues and smaller ones — they’re looking to break the motto of “that’s how we’ve done it for years” that permeated the former county board. A new set of eyes can see different approaches and, while change may not always be for the best, it’s something the new board is striving for.
“We have to look at alternatives to providing service to the people of Wright County who have entrusted us with their tax dollars to run the county,” Daleiden said. “We have to figure out how to find ways to make us more efficient, find out what works and find out what doesn’t. Will we make mistakes? Sure, but that’s part of the job. Hopefully, we do a lot more things right than wrong, but doing something just because it’s been done the same way for years isn’t the answer.”
As the four new commissioners find their comfort zone with their positions in county government, their learning curve is getting less. It hasn’t gone away yet, but it’s getting less pronounced all the time.
“When you’re not on the inside, you only get a part of the story,” Potter said. “When you’re in this seat, you see things from a different view. That’s where we’re at now. We’re still learning new things every day, but I think we’re all a lot more comfortable and better informed than we were back in January.”
Contact John Holler at [email protected]